In the wake of protests from the elderly, a state hearing examiner has recommended that the Public Service Commission rescind a rule mandating a $5 minimum fare on sedan services, saying in his written opinion that it was "against the public interest."
The minimum fare was sought by area taxi companies, whose owners claimed the sedan services were costing them business and were posing a danger to the public because of a lack of regulation.
The regulation was approved without comment from sedan service operators or the public, but the PSC decided to reopen the matter after a public outcry.
Examiner Joel M. Bright wrote in his opinion that the rule adopted by the PSC in March had the "unintended effect of harming senior citizens, handicapped citizens, and others," by increasing their costs without any economic reason. Cab and sedan service rates generally are similar, starting at $1.60 for the shortest run.
Steve DeLapp, owner of Towson Sedan Services, who rallied hundreds of senior citizens to fight the increase, said the rejection was "happy news."
Lee Klavans, a lawyer representing the Taxi Association of Baltimore and Baltimore County, said his clients accepted the decision "gracefully."
Mr. Klavans cited a part of the opinion which recognized the taxi FTC industry's concern about "unqualified" sedan drivers and inadequate regulation of sedan services, the numbers of which have grown rapidly in recent years.
The hearing examiner suggested that the five-member PSC board might want to inquire into cab company complaints about the lack of regulation.
"The PSC conducted a fair hearing," said Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation in Baltimore, which operates the area's largest fleet of cabs. "It brought to light some issues where the public is at risk because of deficiencies in the regulation of sedan services."
The association has until Oct. 24 to appeal the recommendation. Mr. Klavans said his clients had not determined their next step.
The PSC examiner heard nearly eight hours of testimony last week, followed by a public hearing in which senior citizens and the disabled praised Towson Sedan Service for its clean cars and prompt, polite service.
They also argued that there was no purpose to the fare increase other than to shut off competition to the cab companies.
At both hearings, Mr. Klavans and taxicab officials said the competition from sedan services would weaken the cab companies, which provide service around the clock where the sedan operators don't. Sedan services take customers by appointment only, and cannot pick up random fares.